Behind every great dish, there's always a greater origin story.
a johnny marzetti casserole dish next to a picture of the the state of ohio
Credit: Lindsey Hayes

Family recipes are the best recipes. Whether it's those chewy chocolate chip cookies that your mom always made for you when you were a kid or that delicious sweet potato pie recipe that's been passed down in your family for generations, no one can argue over the sheer joy and comfort that tried and true family recipes bring. And, another family-themed recipe is the Johnny Marzetti casserole.

The Johnny Marzetti Casserole

If you aren't from Ohio or the Midwest, you may not have heard of this cheesy, comforting, and hearty casserole that hails from Columbus, Ohio. Let us provide some context so you can enjoy the history behind it as much as the dish itself.

It All Started With Teresa Marzetti

According to the Ohio History Central website, upon arriving in the United States in 1896, Italian immigrant Teresa Marzetti decided to open an Italian restaurant near the campus of The Ohio State University. At her restaurant, along with her creamy salad dressings (more on that later), one of the most popular dishes was her Johnny Marzetti casserole. Named after her brother-in-law, this scrumptious baked casserole was made with ground beef, cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles. One theory as to why this dish became so popular throughout the area, and eventually the larger Midwest, is because of its easy preparation and overall deliciousness.

Many versions of this casserole stick to the original outline but the Johnny Marzetti has also lasted the test of time because of its versatility — from the type of meats or noodles used, to add-ins like extra veggies or greens — this favorite can be customized for your family.

The History of Mrs. Marzetti's Restaurants

Along with getting credit for this tasty creation, Mrs. Marzetti also had a foothold in the community with her restaurants. She succeeded in opening her first restaurant in 1896 near the Ohio State campus, though this restaurant closed in 1942. Her second restaurant located in downtown Columbus was open for business from 1919 to 1940. When one door closes, another opens, and in that same year, 1940, she launched her third restaurant, which was open until her death in 1972. Despite the openings and closings of her three different restaurants, we still have to thank Mrs. Marzetti for creating this yummy casserole.

Right before Teresa Marzetti opened her first restaurant, she said this memorable statement: "We will start a new place and serve good food. At a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but we will serve good food." Inspired by her quote, the T. Marzetti company decided to name their company after her.

Wait, There's More…

Speaking of the T. Marzetti company still in operation today, you may recognize this name as you browse the refrigerated dressings in the produce section of your grocery store. As we mentioned earlier, Teresa Marzetti was also known for her dressings, like creamy coleslaw and French, and her restaurant patrons would request bottles of freshly made favorites to take home with them. By 1955, the dressings had become so renowned that the upstairs of the restaurant became a factory to keep up with production. And the Marzetti brand of salad dressings was born.

So the next time you need a family-friendly meal, and a good success story to tell with it, look no further than a Johnny Marzetti, with a salad on the side. Just be ready to make it on repeat, and pass along the recipe.

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